During the last Storage Field Day we met an interesting SOHO/ROBO-focused storage company called Drobo.

Drobo was the talk of the town a few years ago when their first 4-bay RAID array stunned the home storage enthusiasts with their BeyondRAID technology, that enabled a very smart use of those drives laying around the house giving the user the power to mix & match different drive sizes using a technology once found only on high-end storage arrays.

Here’s a video recorded during Storage Field Day that shows how BeyondRAID works.

After this breakthrough, Drobo slowly sneaked into the SOHO market with a NAS gateway for the original product, an integrated Block/File 5-bay array and a big 8-bay rackmount-able box aimed at the higher end of the SOHO market. They slowly (but steadily) gained market share, and then took the plunge with a new “business” line officially aimed at the ROBO (Remote Office/Branch Office) market, with the message “My other SAN is a Drobo” willing to not replace high-end storage systems at the business core, but rather exploiting the flourishing ROBO market that is usually not served well by the traditional high-end storage player.

The new systems sport iSCSI or NAS connectivity and the top of the line model (B1200i) can accommodate up to three SSDs (out of 12 total bays) and use them as accelerator (flash as a cache) with their proprietary Automated Data Tiering technology, which is pretty nifty for a ROBO storage!, and it supports NTFS, HFS+, ext3, VMFS, and FAT32 file system formats.

Here you can watch the B1200i demo during Storage Field Day 1.

The tiering demo didn’t work as expected but I heard from the Drobo guys that it was a last minute idea and they didn’t rehearse it enough πŸ™‚

My Take

BeyondRAID is an interesting piece of technology that has no match in the market that Drobo serves, I find the mix & match idea really smart for small scale storage needs and the B1200i quite compelling in a ROBO scenario, however, especially in a ROBO environment, other nuances such as full on-site support and array-based replication need to be considered and that could place Drobo in a difficult position.

DISCLAIMER: Drobo was a sponsor of Storage Field Day 1, and as such was partly responsible for my airfare and hotel accommodations. Drobo did not ask for, nor did they receive any consideration for this article.